Developer Promoting Plans For Casino-Arena Project

Published: Oct. 21, 2002 at 5:34 PM EDT|Updated: Dec. 23, 2002 at 2:02 PM EST
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(OWENSBORO, Ky., October 21st, 2002, 1:30 p.m.) -- A developer is promoting plans for a $200 million casino-arena-indoor waterpark complex he wants to build next to his hotel in downtown Owensboro.

"We can make Owensboro the hottest spot in Kentucky," John Bays said. "But I can't wait forever. This is going to happen someplace. By March, if Owensboro doesn't do something, I'll move on and do it somewhere else."

Bays said he hopes to pitch his plan to the Kentucky Tourism Council when it meets at his Executive Inn Rivermont this week.

The linchpin of the project is a $50 million casino. Casinos are illegal in Kentucky, but Bays said he is working on a plan to present to the Kentucky General Assembly during its 2003 session.

A plan to allow slot machines only at Kentucky's horse tracks died during the 2002 legislative session. Bays' plan would allow casinos to be built away from race tracks but would earmark part of the profits for the horse industry.

If the legislature decided to put a constitutional amendment to allow casinos on the ballot, voters could decide the issue in the November 2003 general election, the Legislative Research Commission says. But depending on how the ballot question is worded, the legislature might have to pass new legislation in 2004 before casinos could actually open.

"I could have construction under way in three months," Bays said.

Bays said he plans to schedule a public meeting before the Nov. 5 election to show off architectural drawings of the proposed complex.

"We need to elect people who are in favor of this project," he said.

City Manager Ron Payne said the drawings are "impressive-looking stuff."

When Bays first proposed a casino two years ago, he was talking about a $100 million complex. But the concept has since grown to the $200 million range, he said.

His plans show a $90 million arena on the west side of the Executive Inn property, stretching from the Ohio River bank to West Second Street. Bays plans to use the arena for such things as concerts, boxing matches, hockey games and motocross. Architects
say it would seat 16,000 to 18,000.

A $50 million casino would connect to the east side of the arena in front of the hotel. The entrance from Second Street would be lined with columns and feature water sprays arching above the driveway. On its east side, the casino would be connected to a $26 million indoor waterpark that would fill the space from the hotel's entrance to Second Street. The waterpark would be open year-round, Bays said. A small parking lot would separate the waterpark from an expanded convention center.

Bays said he would expect the casino to take in at least $360 million a year with $36 million of that going to the city, county and schools. Bays said he would hire 3,000 people at a minimum of $15 an hour, which would create a total payroll of $93.6 million.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)